I have always assumed that he is sneaky not stupid, but I have begun to wonder if Mickey Kaus has really grasped the possibility that there might be more than three numbers: "Negative", "Positive" and "Zero". If there is any proof that he understands that one positive number might be larger than another, I'd be interested in seeing it.
Kaus Wrote (via Yglesias)
My crude default view: If we have robust economic growth, we don’t need greater unionization to boost low-end wages. If we don’t have economic growth, then greater unionization isn’t going to do much to boost low-end wages by itself. And greater unionization will actually make economic growth less likely.
I suppose I should note the words "crude" and "default", so to be as charitable as possible, this may just show that Kaus thinks that all positive numbers are approximately the same. If anyone can present and defend a still more favorable assessment of Mr Kaus's grasp of the concept of the number, I would be interested to hear it and honestly sincerely surprised.
I think it is easy to see that his argument is bogus without bothering with specifics like the definitions of the word "union" and the phrase "economic growth". There is a clear equivocation in
"If we have robust economic growth, ... If we don’t have economic growth." So economic growth is either robust or nonexistent ? This is not a mere slip. Kaus really relies on the equivocation. He can argue that with robust economic growth things will be great. Any example of things not being so hot with economic growth doesn't disprove this claim, he will just claim it wasn't "robust". Then he can argue that with zero economic growth, things will be rotten. What he can't argue is that things were fine and dandy from 2002 through 2007 with normal economic growth and median wage stagnation, nor that there was median wage stagnation in the 50s with similar growth rates and strong unions.
He is making a false dichotomy between robust growth and no growth. He is also being totally innumerate. He considers all "boosts" to low end wages to be equal, that is, he considers only whether the trend is positive or negative. With robust growth and no unions, low end wages will rise. With robust growth and unions they will grow faster. His argument, such as it is, does not depend on the claim that unions slow growth. It is a totally invalid argument based on his manifest incapacity to grasp the fact that there are more than three numbers ("positive", "negative" and "zero")
Basically he claims that the effect of unions is dwarfed by the difference between 4% real GDP growth per year and 0% real GDP growth per year. OK now how about Mickey Kaus just shutting up forever. Mr Kaus and I disagree about whether this would be a good thing or a bad thing, but we agree that it is dwarfed by the difference between 4% real GDP growth per year and 0% real GDP growth per year.
update: I'm quite serious. I think I can explicate Kaus's argument. I really think the following is a fair clarification of his thought
If we have robust economic growth, we don’t need greater unionization to boost low-end wages [that is there is a rate of economic growth so high that, without unions low-end real wages will grow. All positive numbers are approximately equal so if economic growth is positive then low-end real wages will grow approximately as fast as anyone can wish.] If we don’t have economic growth,[That is, if Real GNP growth is zero or negative, then per capital real GDP growth will be negative, real low-end wages will decline. All negative numbers are approximately equal, so] then greater unionization isn’t going to do much to boost low-end wages by itself. And greater unionization will actually make economic growth less likely [,because I said so based on my idea of common sense and without looking at any data].
This is my best effort to make sense of the Kaus quotation. Perhaps someone can do better and come up with an interpretation which is not based on the assumption that all positive numbers are approximately equal, but, for the life of me, I can't imagine what that interpretation might be.
update: Wow I got a link from Kaus. Odd since I linked to Drum not Kaus directly. I quote the relevant text which includes the link.
And greater unionization will actually make economic growth less likely.**
**--Why? Because the litigious, adversarial, cumbersome everything-must-be-negotiated culture and structure of American unionism is incompatible with the flexible, rapidly changing workplace required to be globally competitive in the twenty-first century! (E.g., compare Toyota's production system with Detroit's model.) That's one reason why. ... Also, greater union power (at least until you get to near-universal unionization) promotes the wage-price spiral, requiring depressive Fed action to tame inflation. That's another reason. ... 10:04 P.M.
Notably Kaus does not contest my theory that he believes that all postive numbers are approximately equal. Nor does he provide another interpretative key to his original post. Instead he responds to the fact that I note in passing, that he argues,in passing, that unions are bad for growth. The assertion that unions are bad for growth is not central to his original argument. It is tacked on at the end (note the sentence begins with the word "And"). He has asserted that unions do approximately no good, which would be quite a result if he had argued it convincingly, and adds that he thinks they are bad for growth.
My principal objection was to his principal argument which concludes that unions do approximately no good using the assumption that all positive numbers are approximately equal. Kaus does not contest my claim that his reasoning is based on that assumption. Instead he debates a second point, which is, of course, immensely important. I think he doesn't contest my interpretation of his reasoning, because it is impossible to contest my interpretation of his reasoning. His brief argument is clearly entirely based on the assumption that all positive numbers are approximately equal. Someone might be able to come up with another interpretation, but, I concluded that Mr Kaus, himself is not that someone. That he has conceded that, yes indeed, he reasons on important issues using, relying on and accepting without any hesitation or doubt the assumption that all positive numbers are approximately equal.
I propose that future discussions of Mr Kaus's contributions to the economic debate take note of the fact that he assumes that all positive numbers are approximately equal and that people who r take his arguments seriously be asked if they too assume that all postiive numbers are approximately equal. I have made the accusation. He has, evidently, happened upon my accusation. He has chosen not to contest it. Until further notice, I think it is reasonable to tentatively conclude that Mickey Kaus agrees that he makes and relies upon the assumption that all positive numbers are approximately equal.